When it comes to being a professional the natural place to start is appearance. It is something that is largely within our control and more often than not creates the largest noticeable impact. However, appearance is extremely superficial and has little to do with professionalism. Dressing appropriately is; however, important, but dressing to the nines' is simply unnecessary and sometimes inappropriate. Not only might you be seen as too focused on your appearance, but also not conscious of what is appropriate and how to fit in within a corporate culture.
In addition, you want to be true to yourself and not seen as fraudulent, because most people will see through the facade (if not immediately they will eventually). With that said let's reemphasize the dress appropriately part and note that image is far different from appearance. For example, if you are meeting a client at a construction site it makes sense to wear appropriate shoes and not wear dress shoes... A savvy client will not fault you for something that makes sense.
Not convinced: although anecdotal we've met and work with many high net worth individuals (7 - 8 figure range), and we've landed them not because of our personal appearance, but because of what we had to say/offer. In this day and age, it is wise to not judge a book by its cover, because more often than not people dress more casually than ever. Therefore wait until a person speaks before you judge them or better yet take your time before making an assessment and always err on the side of caution. However, always dress appropriately for the situation (this is not a guide for persuading an HR manager to hire you).
Every professional, unless they are fraudulent, has expert knowledge in their field. More importantly as a professional & expert it is crucial to be able to communicate your expertise in a way that: clients, customers, or other departments within a company understand. For example, if you are an attorney and you need to explain a complicated legal analysis to a client; it is crucial to explain it in such a way that they understand, but at the same time your explanation cannot lose meaning/vital information in the process. Expert knowledge requires expert communication skills…
This one is rather difficult and even more difficult for businesses and individuals to stomach, but it means everything to the client/customer and future business/repeat customers. More often than not a customer/client will have a complaint about your service or product and there are normally only a few scenarios, but accountability is crucial:
1) The customer is misinformed and requires clarification.
2) The customer is wrong and requires clarification.
3) Your business is at fault, and you need to make it up to the customer.
4) The customer is trying to get over/scam you and you need to politely put them in their place.
Honesty and integrity are essential to professionalism insofar that you aren’t jeopardizing your business. This does not mean it is acceptable to divulge trade secrets or confidential information. In addition, it does not mean you should provide the customer or client with all the negatives about a product or service you are selling, but you cannot lie about something when asked directly about it with full knowledge of the truth. Always think about business through a legal lens first then through a business lens, being sued can be more costly than being honest. Also, do not answer questions that are beyond your expertise as this is the equivalent of lying. If you decide it is strategic to lie always factor in the consequences and potential legal repercussions.
This one is simple, always respond to calls, voicemails, text message, e-mails, and letters in a timely fashion. Again respond to all messages. This is a pet peeve for us and a hallmark of a true professional. This does not mean you should rush a message, but acknowledging receipt of a message is often helpful & courteous. Another quick tip is to not reject someone’s call then text them “I’m in a meeting, what’s up,” instead silence their call and wait until you have a chance to return their call, they are calling and not texting you for a reason, so return the same courtesy). Of course, there are exceptions to the rule when not responding is strategic, but not responding due to laziness or reluctance is unacceptable.
Easy enough, leave early and plan in advance and you will never be late (except for unforeseen circumstances). The importance of arriving on time is rooted in the principle of being respectful of a person's time by not wasting their time. If you are late, give them as much notice as possible and apologize, but also make sure they are okay with you being late and make it up to them if at all possible. Never assume your actions or situation are acceptable even if they are in your mind.
In terms of professionalism you may believe that your personal life matters to your customer/client/coworker and that they are your best friend, but they are not (even if they actually are); you should keep it formal and professional. It is not acceptable behavior for a professional to inform people about their personal life especially if you are using it as an excuse. For example, if you are late to an appointment or can’t make an appointment it is not acceptable to explain how your mother is sick and there is no one else to take care of her and that if you aren’t there, she could get worse… The reason being: not only do other professionals not want to hear this, but they don’t care because your problems are not their problems. If you could not perform due to a personal issue, then you should not have taken on the responsibility in the first place. Again it is fine to be preemptive and let the other party know you cannot accommodate them in advance, but it cannot be a last minute notification. It is best to disclose any issue that may hinder your performance in advance.
A hugely overlooked and undervalued part of professionalism is communication skills. It is arguably the linchpin of professionalism and as such should never be overlooked. However, few businesses and individuals place emphasis on such a crucial skill that undeniably increases profitability.
The focus for employers should be less on creating a pleasant work environment & building rapport. They should instead concentrate on enabling employees to communicate effectively and efficiently, which in turn results in less time wasted due to miscommunication/interpretation. Effective communication is key to not only growing your business but also operating it and effectively managing it.
In terms of professionalism, when meeting clients in person unless it is strategic always be respectful and never assume anything. For example, if you are entering a person’s home or office for the first time do not simply assume you should take a seat: wait to be seated or ask if you may take a seat in a specified location. If you believe this is ridiculous it isn’t, people are peculiar, and aside from the catastrophes, it is the minor situations that tend to upset people and get under their skin. Again be a professional, pay attention to social and cultural cues, and never take anything for granted (remember being professional is also strategic). For example, a client told us how during an initial meeting the person took the liberty to sit in a recently restored antique chair that made him furious to no end (of course he simply asked that they take a seat elsewhere because it was a decorative piece). Again your goal is to be respectful and to not upset people. In other words, when in doubt always default to being a professional.
• Being late
• Lack of respect
• Invading privacy
• Not listening
• Poor manners
• Multitasking when you should be paying attention
• Wasting people’s time
• Lack of maturity
• Assigning blame
• Inappropriate attire
• Unwanted mailing list
• Lack of follow through
• 'Bullshit,' 'gobbledegook,' and or flowery language
• Argumentative without factual basis
• Lack of objectivity
• Lack of diplomacy
• Poor memory/selective memory
• Narrow mindedness
The phone is the second most invasive form of communication, so generally speaking preface the call by making sure “it is a good time to talk.” You should also understand that you should keep phone conversation brief and direct and say what you have to say. The exception, of course, is if the person is long-winded in which case you may politely engage them in conversation.
Aside from mail, e-mail is the least invasive form of communication. However, when contacting someone especially for the first time keep it formal unless it is strategic to do otherwise. Learning how to write e-mails should be a prerequisite for all businesses, but since most don't know how to train their employees to write professional e-mails, we suggest you keep it simple, short, and organized while maintaining a formal & polite tone.
When responding to e-mails be sure to read them carefully and take your time crafting your response/message. In other words, default to thinking legally and writing carefully. Short, concise messages are difficult to write, but they are: easy to read, remember, and decipher. Long messages are easy to write, but they are: difficult to interpret/decipher, difficult to respond to, and easy to miss vital information.
A well-lit quiet room is important due to the camera’s and microphone’s performance requirements. This is the closest to an in-person meeting, so nearly all the same rules apply as if it were an in person meeeting.
Text messaging is generally speaking an informal form of communication; however, your message can be either formal or informal. Use text messages sparingly unless you have a solid relationship with the person and even then be mindful and do not overuse text messages unless it is their preferred method of contact. Leave emojis out of text messages, keep your message short and to the point, but without sounding rude. Also be sure you carefully review your message before hitting send.
Honesty and Integrity:
Responding to communications:
Consider these business related pet peeves you should be aware of:
On the phone:
We are somewhat ambivalent about voicemails because it is easy for your contact to miss vital information due to technical issues or communication errors. As a result in order to, minimize these common problems, it is important to speak clearly especially if you have a difficult name and to repeat your contact information twice, so they don’t have to go back and replay the voicemail. Voicemails must be polite and should include: vital information, and contact information. Avoid leaving long and drawn out messages with too much detail as it can be confusing and recording time can run out. Alternatively, instead of a voicemail send a text message, but do not turn it into a conversation: let them know that you just called, that you are leaving a text message in place of a voicemail, and politely ask them to call you back at their earliest convenience. You may also leave vital information if absolutely necessary in the same text message.
• Poor communication skills: both written & oral
• Personal space
• Not taking things seriously
• Lack of determination
• Allowing personal life to interfere with work
• Lack of ambition
•Too much information
• Limited insight and lack of knowledge
• Not respecting a person's time
• Lack of organization
• Lack of preparation
• Lack of respect for personal property
• Glibness and insincerity
• Lack of social skills
• Not returning communications
• Mumbling & low voice
• Foul Language
• Lack of formality
• Inability to solve problems
• Inability to understand problems
• Inability to adapt
• Reacting not responding
A true professional does not have a separate personal life. A true professional maintains professionalism at least in appearance in their personal life also. In other words think of your personal life as being intertwined with your professional life, because the general public identifies you in relation to your business. It's acceptable and sometimes beneficial to share or show parts of your personal life especially with the advent of social media, but it is important to remain neutral & positive.
It is not professional to expose parts of your life that are considered negative. For example, a person would frown upon seeing pictures of their financial advisor at the casino gambling large sums of money or pictures of your lawyer passed out drunk, nor do you want to see them in real life doing these things. Arguably their personal image may not correlate with their professional abilities, but most people would certainly think twice about continuing a professional relationship with them.
More examples of behaviors you want to avoid online:
• Ranting or supporting political ideology or propaganda (you limit professional opportunities & future business by aligning yourself with a political view unfortunately, it's better to stay neutral).
• Preaching or promoting religious ideology or views (you limit professional opportunities or future business because other people have their beliefs and views, which sometimes conflict with yours/your religions).
• Racism, prejudice opinions, or general hate should be avoided at all cost (people are less likely to work with you if you openly express or hold certain negative opinions of groups of people).
• Ranting about personal life and problems is also risky, but sometimes acceptable, just be cautious in regard to the subject/subject matter.
• Ranting online about work, clients, customers, or co-workers can carry repercussions for you, your employer, or current/future business. Instead talk with friends, family, or co-workers in person, which is safer way to vent.
Acceptable online behaviors:
• Asking for help online is generally acceptable and can produce new leads and business in general, but don't come on too strong especially if you are offering your services.
• Posting neutral topics, positive opinions, places you visit, things you do, etc are all fine. Just make sure it sets the right image for you or your business.
Personal & Professional Life (online):